DMI Blog

Manuel Guzman

Did you get the memo?

Back in 2005, political strategist Frank Luntz issued a memo to Republicans entitled "Respect for the Law & Economic Fairness: Illegal Immigration Prevention", which outlined a set of talking points and nuances to divide the electorate and create a new group of political targets - undocumented immigrant workers. At the time, it ended up in several left-leaning bloggers' hands and was eventually posted at Daily Kos (.pdf warning).

Luntz writes:

(1) Always differentiate LEGAL from illegal immigration;

(2) Always refer to people crossing the border illegally as "illegal immigrants" - NOT as "illegals"

(3) Always focus on those who are hurt most by illegal immigration - American citizen and immigrants who came here legally and played by the rules;

(4) Don't argue whether illegal immigration is a crisis, a major problem or a national challenge. Describe the problem, quantify it, but don't measure it; and

(5) If it sounds like amnesty, it will fail.

Since the memo was issued, many of Luntz' recommendation have become vernacular among media pundits and political campaigns without any significant response, which is why I believe it is necessary to denounce this practice and a call for reform of the immigration system using human rights as the prism. Sections of Luntz' memo were outright ignored, and no where in the country is this more evident than in the state of Arizona, with Phoenix serving as a lightning rod for for the future of immigration policies in the United States

At all levels of government, the city of Phoenix is under the jurisdiction of laws that officials are using to crack down on undocumented labor. Hardline Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, along with Maricopa County Andrew Thomas have pushed a campaign to allow local law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration law, create a hot line for residents to report the immigration status of others, and a policy to jail any undocumented worker under an anti-smuggling law through the creation of a posse.

On the state level, January 1, 2008 marked the day when the state's Employer Sanctions Law took effect. Signed in July by Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano, the law requires every worker in the state to be vetted through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services verification program.

In a written statement accompanying House Bill 2779, the Governor said she took the tandem action because Congress has failed miserably. She wrote, “Immigration is a federal responsibility, but I signed HB 2779 because it is now abundantly clear that Congress finds itself incapable of coping with the comprehensive immigration reforms our country needs. I signed it, too, out of the realization that the flow of illegal immigration into our state is due to the constant demand of some employers for cheap, undocumented labor.” - linkage

It's important to understand that two of the Committee Officers for this endeavor have very clear ideas about what they would like to see happen in the United States. Let's begin with Chairperson Don Goldwater, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 2006.

“We need to go after the businesses that flagrantly violate the law, and we need to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, and if the illegal aliens that we capture and prosecute under the judicial system it is my intention to use federal funds, homeland security funds, and state funds to work with the local Sheriffs down on the border to build a tent city down on the border to house those non-violent convicted felons that are felons down on the border and use them like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the State of Arizona uses their inmate labor to clean up the desert, fix the ranches that they destroyed, and help build a wall down on the border. - link with video footage.

Moving on to Co-Chairman and State Representative Russell Pearce, he supports a campaign of mass deportations.

"We know what we need to do," Pearce, a Republican seeking re-election, said during the "Morning Edition" show on KJZZ radio in Phoenix. "In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower put together a task force called 'Operation Wetback.' He removed, in less than a year, 1.3 million illegal aliens. They must be deported." - audio file available here

Operation Wetback was a program that saw rampant racial profiling, American citizens being illegally deported, and militarization of neighborhoods across the United States. Those calling for a return that era often scoff that they are not racist, yet far too often they end up entangled in the web of white supremacists in this country. Each time that figures like this are given leeway, the country moves in a reactionary direction that leaves many groups (usually minorities) feeling the heat.

That's not to say that all people who support Get Tough™ efforts are racist - there are certainly advocates who do so based solely on self-economic interest. It is important, though, to understand how these tactics play out in the streets of America. We do not have the luxury of a media environment lacking the xenophobic invective of characters such as Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, and in the case of Arizona, former Congressman JD Hayworth. (Note that there is a link to Glenn Spencer's American Patrol Report to the right, a figure who has collected a few Intelligence Reports from the Southern Povertry Law Center).

Democrats would do well to understand that there are very few voices countering the narrative of "illegal" immigration. They have much to learn about the ways they can speak about this complicated issue and to highlight how human rights activists are struggling to stop families being divided by immediate deportation orders. It is time that we speak of escalations of border deaths due to the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, the lack of due process for imprisoned migrants (and their families) located in various concentration camps, and the ongoing incidents of racial profiling each time a workplace or home is raided using S.W.A.T. Team-like tactics.

A flag of warning should be raised to all of us that the language we see within the greater immigration is not an accident - it is the result of a cynical political strategy based on dividing voters. Luntz' memo excerpted above is just one example of many, and it has led to a slew of laws being passed across the country that are inhumane and unjust. There is a middle ground to be found that will bring millions of workers out of the shadows of this country in such a way that can forge a new era of workers' rights and economic stability; but it will take a coalition of union leaders, legislators and grassroots advocacy to move the United States forward in a situation that has clearly got out of hand.

Will we get the memo?

Manuel Guzman: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:41 PM, Jan 07, 2008 in Immigration
Permalink | Email to Friend